Older Irish working boats

I’ve come across a few illustrations of older working boats from Irish inland waterways. While twentieth-century boats, and especially the Grand Canal Company’s motor-barges, are reasonably well understood, with information available on the Heritage Boat Association website, other vessels are less well covered.

This page is intended as a place to put and share illustrations and other information; it also provides links to some pages about older Irish inland vessels.


The barge at Plassey on the abandoned Limerick Navigation

Steamers on the Royal Canal

Steam on the Grand Canal and an experimental single-screw passenger vessel in 1850

Steam on the Newry Canal in 1850

Waterford to New Ross by steam in 1842

There are some photos of workboats used in the construction of Ardnacrusha here.

There are some photos of wooden canal boats used by Messrs Russell of Portarlington on this page, and this page has a link to a Laois County Council free downloadable (PDF) book about the Mountmellick Canal, which has more about Russells.

Here is a speculative page about the design of the ferry-boat used at Cammoge, for crossing Poulnasherry Bay, in the 1840s.

Here are some barges on the Liffey in 1832 and here are Guinness Liffey barges in around 1902.

Here is the 120′ Irish narrow boat.


The first illustration is transferred from a recent post of mine about Nineteenth-century Irish canal boats; the second is from a book about the Suir.

Portobello Harbour 1882

Illustrations of early Irish inland waterways vessels are relatively scarce. The drawing below shows the sterns of two of them.

Portobello Harbour 1882

This is from The Graphic of May 13, 1882, and shows the lighting of tar-barrels in Portobello Harbour, on the Grand Canal in Dublin, to celebrate the release from prison of Charles Stewart Parnell and two colleagues.

The layout of the harbour in around 1900 can be seen on the OSI Historic 25″ map. Where were the vessels tied? What are the buildings in the background? What can be said about the vessels? Presumably wooden horse-drawn barges, but they look rather narrow to me. Comments welcome.

The harbour itself is, alas, no more.

A Suir yawl

The second illustration is a photo, taken from a reprint of a L M McCraith’s book The Suir, from its source to the sea (Clonmel Chronicle 1912; full download available here), of what I take to be two horse-drawn yawls on the Suir at Clonmel.

Yawls on the Suir (L M McCraith 1912)

I suspect this is taken from Gashouse Bridge, looking downstream. The boat in the foreground looks long and rather narrow; it seems to be high out of the water and may be empty. There is a man at the helm, with a long tiller and a large rudder, and there may be a second may in the bow. I think there are several horses on the towing-path to the left of the photo.

There is what I presume is a second vessel downstream, looking more heavily laden. Could the horses be towing that second vessel? Or is it running downstream with the current? Comments welcome.

Shannon cots

Whereas the cots used on the estuaries, often for fishing, were slim vessels, the cots of the midlands were load-carriers. Here is a drawing from The Graphic of 13 December 1879, one of three illustrating Shannon floods.

Midlands cot

The original caption says “Boat and Landing-stage for removing Haycocks”.

Cot close-up

Note the use of the pole for propulsion.

January and February 2011

3 responses to “Older Irish working boats

  1. Brian

    Great site and fantastic focus on Irish industrial archaeology.

    Now somebody out there might be able to help me identify the following vessels. I have seen a photo of NAAS harbour dated 1880. There are two boats moored in the basin. One boat bears the number ’76 B’. It is also painted with the following: ‘ Thomas McCann, Mary, Naas.’ I had hoped to find 76B in the listing in ‘Portrait of the Grand Canal’ by Gerard D’Arcy (published 1969, Dublin). However it is not listed. Any steer where I might find a listing with detail on this boat would be welcome. Secondly there is a boat where the following is visible ‘GCC’ followed by what appears to be ‘9’ as in ‘GCC9’. However it is not clear whether the ‘9’ is part of a number such as ’96’ or is ‘9’ on its own. I hope I have not confused everybody. Any information on this boat too would be welcome.

  2. Thanks, Liam. I’m forwarding your query to an expert; I’ll send you a copy. bjg

  3. Have you heard this lovely journey?

    What is the name of the Northern Irish equivalent of English barges? Couldn’t quite make out what they are called at 08.48. Can you put a the answer or comment on this site please?

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